What qualifies as a hobby, anyway?


I’ve been thinking about how identify ourselves – both internally, and to others. Even in those past few years when I picked my guitar up maybe once or twice a month at most, I still liked to think of myself as a musician.

What qualifies as a hobby?

Are you a reader if you don’t have time to read more than a book a month?

Are you a muso if you only dust off your instrument every other week?

Are you a skiier if you only hit the slopes once in a season?

Are you a (hobby) photographer if you still don’t feel at home in manual mode?

Are you a baker if your cakes are hideous (but taste amazing)?

Are you a runner if you only ever run a couple of kilometres at a time?

For example, hiking seems to be the new thing now that we’re in our mid 20s. I go along to be social, and because sometimes we see cool stuff – waterfalls, sweeping views, etc. The workout is a bonus (mixing it up is fun, especially since I don’t really push myself when I go running). Going tramping with friends forces me to push my limits; if I keep this up I might actually have rock hard legs one day.

But I don’t know that I would call it a hobby. I mean, 90% of the time when we’re out in the bush, it’s not particularly fun. It’s an exercise in light pain – lungs and thighs on fire, sweat pooling in every crevice. Some of them are now doing overnight and multi-day trips, which I stay well clear of.

On the other hand, those among us who were really into music growing up have slowly drifted away from our instruments. I assume that’s because maintaining a certain level of skill takes a LOT of time and effort, and as we get older we have a lot more on our plate.

I’d always planned to replace our stolen gear, but the cost is putting me off – will it really be worth the outlay? Will we play enough to justify the cost? Wouldn’t that $2k or so be better put toward a house fund?

What counts as a hobby? Is it about investing in equipment? Is it about the level of enjoyment you get out of it? Is it about reaching a certain basic level of competence?

11 thoughts on “What qualifies as a hobby, anyway?

  • Reply Mario Adventuresinfrugal April 4, 2014 at 08:02

    You bring up some important points. Do aspirations count? Or only actions? Can actions I no longer take still define me?

    I think about this a lot, myself. Am I my job or my hobby? If I turned my job into a hobby I did whenever I felt like it — once a month perhaps — can it still define me?

    I think the problem with using”define” when it applies to a person is close to the same problem when we use “define” for words; the same word might have a different connotation to different people depending on a million different factors.

    Does it matter what YOU see yourself as? Or what others see you as?

    How do you answer when people ask, “What do you do?”

    Obviously, I’m not even close to having any of the answers.

  • Reply anna April 4, 2014 at 09:18

    I tend to list activities as hobbies if I genuinely enjoy it, even if I’m not particularly great at it. For instance, I love running and do it frequently, even if I’m not very fast. I also like cooking and also do it frequently, even if it means burning stuff half the time. 😉

  • Reply Erin @ My Alternate Life April 4, 2014 at 11:45

    For me, hobbies are just things I enjoy doing and I make an effort to do regularly. I consider my hobbies now to be writing, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling. None of these require real competence (unless you are writing for money, which I am). I do them because I truly enjoy them — it’s hard to be bad at any of these things 🙂

  • Reply Clarisse @ Reach Financial Independence April 4, 2014 at 12:06

    y hobbies are jogging, reading of blogs and cooking. I just started jogging last month, I do it every day, because my goal is to lose weight before my birthday!

  • Reply Kara April 4, 2014 at 13:08

    I like to consider a hobby as some kind of activity that your enjoy doing regardless of how good you are at it, be it yoga, reading (5 books a month or only 1/2 a novel a year), spelunking… You don’t have to be the best at it, as long as you’re doing something that puts a smile on your face and you’re doing it because YOU want to, not because the general population is.

  • Reply E.M. April 4, 2014 at 14:26

    Like others have said, I would consider it a hobby if you’re passionate about it. You could be a horrible baker, but still enjoy the process of creating recipes. Most of the time, hobbies start out on a small scale when you’re a beginner, and you’ll improve if you keep at it.

    This is a good question, though. Reading has always been enjoyable to me, but lately, I haven’t been finding a lot of time to open a book. I’m sure I could technically make time for it, so does that mean it’s no longer a passion of mine? I could be reading the wrong books (non-fiction as opposed to fantasy/mystery). As you said, I have less time to read now than I did in elementary school, and that plays a big part.

  • Reply No Nonsense Landlord April 4, 2014 at 16:01

    Get some business cards printed, and it is a business, not a hobby. And a tax write off…

    If you think you are great at something, you are. Buy what it takes to look good doing it, and do it right. Reaching a competent level of the activity is fun, and once that is achieved, it’s on to a different hobby and another challenge.

  • Reply Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) April 4, 2014 at 17:29

    I would say a hobby is anything you do relatively consistently for pleasure. Mostly I’d say the pleasure thing is what is key, not the frequency. For me, hiking is not a hobby because I HATE it, so it is generally a means to an end. But reading… I will always be a reader, even if I only read 1 book a month (which I realize is a high number for some, but for me, about a 75% decrease from what I normally tuck into).

  • Reply Rich Uncle EL April 5, 2014 at 04:20

    I think a hobby is something that you enjoy doing, even if you don’t have time. If you read a book once a year, your not going to go bragging to others that your an extensive reader. The same goes for all your hobbies. I believe we tend to talk about something that is current in our minds and that we are fully engaged in it, if not then you are sort of lying or have no hobbies. For example Im a basketball player, but I do not play it professionally, so I would not bring it up in random conversations unless the topic around hobbies or sports is mentioned.

  • Reply The Asian Pear April 5, 2014 at 06:00

    When I think hobby, I think of level of enjoyment and passion (and to lesser degrees, frequency and investment.) Something we truly enjoy and are look forward to doing.

    For me, a hobby is not necessarily correlated with frequency although there should be some regularity to differentiate it between “hobby” and “passtime.” Also, same with investment. Some hobbies do not require financial investment but some do. Usually, this is collecting things or recreational. It usually occurs when we’re so passionate about something, we’re willing to spend money on it to make it more enjoyable.

  • Reply Cassie April 5, 2014 at 07:51

    A hobby is something you do for enjoyment, regardless of proficiency. Proficiency absolutely should come into play if you’re trying to generate income off it, but I don’t believe it should be used as a bar for whether or not your time spent doing it counts as a hobby. If mashing the keys on a piano while you’re learning to play is something you enjoy, who cares if someone else thinks you suck at it? It’s your hobby. As for where the frequency cut off should be, that would depend on what the hobby is. A person could be considered a reader if they enjoy sitting down to read twice a week, while a skier could still be considered a skier if they only hit the mountain once a month. Whether or not something is considered a hobby to you has nothing to do with the investment you make in it. For example, for my 25th birthday I bought myself a guitar because I wanted to learn how to play. I never did *shame*. Does having spent the money on the guitar make me a musician? Nope. Can I call it a hobby because I spent money on it? Nope. If I had borrowed a guitar from a friend who wasn’t using it, and practiced learning how to play a couple times a week, I could call playing music a hobby even though I didn’t spend a cent on it.

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